A woman is riding on a London commuter train. Did she really see that? She’s confused. Thus begins “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, the hottest mystery novel around.
I spoke to the author. You can hear my interview at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WYSO-FM (91.3). Here are excerpts.
Q. “Paula, have you ever been to America before?
A. “I have been to America before, yes.”
Q. “Have you ever been to America before when you had the hottest book in the world?”
A. (laughter) “No, that’s a first!”
Q. “I understand that you had only written half the book when you turned it in and got a book deal. That’s amazing!”
A. “That’s right. I’d written half the book and I’d been talking about it with my agent … she said it was very strong. I was a bit broke at the time. I needed some money and I couldn’t really wait until I’d finished to try to get a publisher. So we decided we would try. And fortunately there was a really positive response from publishers and so it all worked out.”
Q. The girl on the train, who is our primary narrator, Rachel, she’s a very unreliable narrator because she’s got a bit of a drinking problem.”
A. “She has. Rachel is unreliable not just to other people, not just to the reader, she’s unreliable even to herself because she can’t trust her memory. She can’t trust the judgments that she makes. She was a character that I’d had in my head for a while. I was interested in writing somebody who had a drink problem because I thought that would be an interesting thing to consider. So yes, she’s the ultimate unreliable narrator.”
Q. “We have these other narrators; you bring in two more women. This is a form of triangular narration isn’t it?”
A. “Yes that’s right. The second narrator is Megan, who is a woman that Rachel develops an obsession with; the woman that she sees. And a third narrator who lives on the same street as Megan is the woman who is now married to Rachel’s ex-husband. I really like that triangulated narrative where all these woman are looking at each other as types and they’re making judgments about each other and gradually they start to get under the surface of things and we sort of peel back who these people really are.”
Q. “I don’t want to do any spoilers … . How much do you want to say? I don’t want to give anything away.”
A. “The reason that Rachel is kind of obsessed with this couple is that they live just down the road from where she used to live. It’s sort of a mechanism to stop herself from looking at her own house. She’s decided to fixate on somebody else’s. Because the thing about Rachel is that she’s still devastated from her divorce. She’s still in love with her ex-husband, and she’s basically not been able to move on from that relationship at all. And so she’s sort of projecting all her feelings and all her wistfulness for that lost relationship on to a couple who live just nearby and whom she happens to see. And so she feels she’s developed a connection with these people although she doesn’t actually know them at all … she’s created a fantasy world in her head. It’s a way to ease the pain of her relationship breakdown … and then she sees something that really shocks her, and she finds herself drawn into a mystery.”
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Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.